Let me take you back to 2001.
I was at the movie theater and I walked out of Vanilla Sky. I couldn’t stand it. It was confusing, and made no sense and frankly the cigarette I was having outside was more enjoyable. So I waited around till the rest of my friends finished up the movie. As they exited the theater and met up with me, I was immediately reprimanded for not coming back. We proceeded to have a heated debate about the movie.The next 30 mins saw the movie described as “incredible”, “a masterpiece”, “mediocre” and “what’s worst type of shit? Maybe a camel? this movie was worse than camel shit.” (I may have been the one who said that)(ok, it was me)
Why am I telling you all this? Just as this movie proved to be one of the most polarizing movies that I’ve personally seen, it seems like Lebron James is going down as one of the most polarizing athletes that I’ve seen.
I’ll preface this by saying, I’m not specifically a Lebron fan. I’m a basketball fan, and a sports fan. I appreciate the great players who make up the foundation of their respective sports and thus I appreciate Lebron James.
Lebron James just wrapped up one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. Yet, some people weren’t impressed; some people walked out before it was done.
I don’t need to rehash his stats, in fact I’m going to go out of my way not to post stats as an argument. It would be to easy (also I’m really lazy) and you all know what he’s capable of doing.
(If you don’t, you really need to check it out. For all my hockey friends, the Lebron equivalent in the NHL would lead his team in goals, assists, +/-, face off percentage, he’d be the team’s best player on the power play, the team’s best penalty killer, and he’d be so good that he would arguably be the best defenseman on the team. The only player who comes close in NHL history is Bobby Orr).
Without a doubt we are watching one of the top ten players of all time, and at 28 he’s the first player who has legit shot at dethroning MJ as the greatest player of all time (Sorry Kobeliebers, your boy is one of the greats but he’ll never get there). Now some people already think that’s crazy. Lebron could win 6 more MVPs, 5 more championships, he could break the all time scoring record, he could put up 100 points in a game while saving a
kitten from a tree, he could find a cure for cancer and rid the world of Nicky Minaj’s music and the haters are still going to keep on hating and some fans are still going to say “How you even going to compare him to MJ!!?…Idiot!”
Was it because he couldn’t win a championship in Cleveland? Was it the “Decision”? Is it his off court attitude? All of the above?
Here are the facts; he did everything but win a championship in Cleveland, winning 3 division titles, getting to the Eastern conference finals twice and the NBA finals once. He led them team in scoring every year, and in 08-09 became only the 4th player in the last 30 years to lead his team in all 5 major categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks). He never had a legit #2 while he was there and he carried those Cavs teams far further than they should have gone. Not to mention he was the best defensive player on that team and continues to be on the Heat (for all of MJ’s defensive prowess, Pippen was the best defender on the Bulls).
Look, the “Decision” was arguably the worst decision of his career. It ranks as one of the worst P.R moves in history. However, the actual decision to join Miami was a great one. Lebron got a lot of flack from fans, from sports journalists, and even NBA legends for joining up with Wade, but in this day in age there was no other way for Lebron to team up with a real #2 – a Hall of Fame #2. Magic had Kareem, Bird had McHale, MJ had Pippen; they played in era where you can grab these type of guys through drafts and trades. Top level players could be moved: there was a gap in management skill. In this era, with excellent scouts, with the salary cap, with more teams and a thinner talent pool, the only way for this to happen was through free agency. Lebron could have convinced Wade to come to Cleveland, but the choice was between Cleveland or Miami?…What would you choose? Yeah, I thought so. Any fan of Lebron has no regrets on his decision to “take his talents to South beach”. 3 finals in a row, 2 rings, 2 MVPs, no regrets.
So what is it? Is Lebron the first prodigy/superstar that grew up right before our eyes? I don’t mean through newspapers clippings and the 6 o’clock local news “athlete of the week” segment. I mean multiple ESPN channels, I mean NBATV, Youtube, the internet, and most importantly social media. We got to see behind the curtain, got to peek at the wizard pulling all the levers and pushing all the pedals. So we found out that Lebron is cocky, he has a chip on his shoulder. For all his passing ability on the court, he is kind of a selfish guy. He seems to lack that natural charisma and ultimately he just doesn’t seem to be a likable person.
Then again, he seems to have escaped some of the pratfalls that have tripped up some of the other greats. Never arrested, he’s a family man, he’s never known for any shady dealings. The same can’t really be said about Larry Bird, Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.
Incidentally the 3 guys just mentioned were widely regarded as terrible teammates, and that perception only changed once they matured later on in their careers. To be the best, you’re usually not well liked and your personality does not appeal to the mass public. Nike, Mcdonald’s and Gatorade did a really good job making MJ seem like an all around great guy, and he certainly had a natural charisma that Lebron lacks. But don’t kid yourselves, MJ was a dick and if you don’t believe me, go watch his Hall of Fame speech.
Bottom line, it baffles me that Lebron still has detractors. While some of the negativity was self inflicted he’s been remarkably clean cut and a good “role model”. He’s a victim of his own press and hype, but that same transparency also works both ways. Our access to Lebron means he can’t hide. So he probably is just a good guy who has a bit of an attitude problem and who happens to be the greatest basketball player on the planet. Despite all the commercials, he is not a commercially driven persona “like Mike” (copyright Gatorade). Ultimately the most impressive thing about him isn’t how many shoes he sells but that he’s improved every year he’s been in the league.
Sadly I suspect he will only truly be appreciated once he retires or at least till he gets older. Even if he chose to hang up his kicks now, he’s a top ten player and sure fire hall of famer. At 28 years old, he has at least 7 good years left and if he wins 3-4 more rings…
…we may have set up a game of horse between him and Mike. But instead of a big mac, the winner gets to call himself the best of all time…and we’ll all sit around, watch and argue about it.